October 12th, 2010
06:53 PM ET

FDA OKs drug to fight opiate addiction

Doctors who treat drug addicts have a new option at their fingertips, thanks to a decision Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA gave its blessing to an injectable medicine, Vivitrol, as a treatment for opiate addiction. That's addiction to drugs including heroin as well as powerful prescription painkillers such as OxyContin.

Vivitrol is a time-release version of a drug called naltrexone, which blocks brain receptors from responding to opiates. Without that internal reward, the craving for the drug goes away.

The FDA was able to consider only a single controlled study, conducted in Russia, which found that Vivitrol was 50 percent more effective than a placebo in keeping opidate addicts clean for five months. However, some addiction specialists are already familiar with the drug, which was previously approved as a treatment for alcoholism, and thus available “off-label” for other uses.

In practice, the vast majority of addicts don’t get it.  Most insurance companies won’t pay the cost of nearly $1,000 for each monthly shot; treatment often takes a year or more.  Dr. Paul Earley, an addiction specialist at Talbott Recovery Campus, a center near Atlanta, says cost is a big hurdle and predicts the FDA decision will lead to much wider availability: “It’s going to help tremendously.”

The quality of addiction treatment varies widely, often depending on what a patient can afford.  Still, for rich or poor, the basic approaches to opiate addiction are much the same: Group therapy, sometimes a 12-step program, sometimes “replacement” therapy – treatment that replaces the drug of abuse with a different drug, such as methadone, that leaves the user somewhat more clear-headed, but still addicted.

Naltrexone in pill form is another option, but Earley says daily medication is less effective in the long run. “Every day, the person that’s addicted to drugs has to make a decision on whether or not to use that day,” he says. “The majority of narcotic addicts will just stop taking the drug.”

There’s a crying need for better treatment.  Federal statistics show a 12 percent increase in the number of people addicted to these drugs, between 2008 and 2009.  An even more alarming trend: Between 2004 and 2008 the number of emergency room visits linked to painkillers more than doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Prescription narcotics are tied to 12 times as many ER visits as heroin.

Vivitrol is no magic bullet.  Doctors say it needs to be part of broader treatment, including counseling.  But as Earley puts it, “if you’re willing to take it, it works very, very well.”

Thomas “TJ” Voller, a 29-year-old recovering addict in Westborough, Massachusetts, who has been clean for nearly a year with the help of Vivitrol, says the drug saved his life. “I really was skeptical.  But within the first day of getting my injection, the cravings literally went away. Now, they're non existent.”

soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. CleanLiving87

    This is definitely a better alternative than taking a daily pill. An addict may be prone to forgetting to take the pill, causing the cravings to happen more often. Is this the same as methadone treatment?

    October 19, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Hackem nicks

    Pain relievers such as Vicodin, hydrocodone, should be taken in a proper way as findrxonline says these medicines are dangerous if not followed proper prescription.

    November 3, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Darryl

    I took pain killers as prescribed 40 pills about every week for 12 weeks. NEVER had any issue withdrawing from them. Now of course–that isn't morphine or oxycotin. But for two weeks post op, I took oxycodone. I actually asked the doctor to step me down cause they made me sick, even though they did kill the pain.

    I think the main issue is that not the addiction to the drug but the mental health of the patient. You can take them off the opiates all you want, they will just go to another drug. Alcohol seems to be the drug of choice for most people, since its legal. I can't tell you how many people i know that drink EACH and EVERY night, but will turn around and tell you how dangerous it is to take pain killers even though you have a medical need for them.

    I guess my point is that this idea that these pills are dangerous is a fallacy. Its not the pills but the person and until you treat their mental health, it doesn't matter what they get their hands on, they will abuse it.

    January 2, 2011 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • New Chapter

      Your comment is very ignorant. One cannot take thier personal experience and equate it to every other person out there. That is awesome that you never went through withdrawals. Now, I myself thought similar to how you were thinking. I was married to a man for over ten years who was addicted to pills then turned to heroin. I tore myself apart trying to fix him and I would get so upset because I had the thought mind over matter. He was a strong individual, this feeling of sickness is a farce. I would hear how horrible this withdrawal was and thought that these people were merely weaker and a lot of it was exazerated. I had suffered with addiction to alchohol and Benzo's and quit with no problems really. Just feeling a little off and sometimes icky. But nothing debilitating like I heard and seen. I would see people slouched over walking groaning a hot mess. I never understood. Now fast forward to the end of my relationship with my ex husband. I had allowed myself to seek an outlet and escape from the way I was feeling along with anger of him never quitting I was gonna show him how it felt to see the person he loved use. I was strong headed, driven, and nothing gets the best of me I won't ever let that happen.... So I thought... I started using and the withdrawals are real, very real. I promise you that if you too were to get hooked on opiats you would feel what all opiat addicts fear and what keeps them using.. Withdrawals. They are nothing kind and nothing to joke about. First day starts off with wrestlessness, uncontrollable excessive yawning, watery tearing eyes that make it hard to see, sweating every where excessively, anxiety, pooping so much again and again. Then sleep. These are not things you make happen.... It just does want it or not, like it or not. Wake up hours or next day and day 2 is the worst day ever..each person wakes up with a pain unlike the next. For me it is my kidneys and back. A pain unlike any other pain, like kidney stones and broken back. I cannot even stand strait it hurts so bad, so bad. With tremendous pain I grunt and moan to the bathroom like a very very old person with ailments and that is exactly how I feel. Poo again and eyes watering, anxiety is out of control like I want to bolt off and run, but I can't. My legs are wrestles and I can't stop bouncing my knee, stomach pains and then nausea us profusely sweating, life sucks, depression, I am so angry I hate everyone everything is your fault, I think about really mean things and say mean things, I hate myself and my life, I need to get some stuff now to end this feeling now I can't sleep at all so on and so forth for about 3 to 4 days. You get the drift.....and Having gone through them and witnessing them more than I would ever like to admit your comment was really ignorant and narrow minded. People like you make it difficult for the addicts to get help that is truly needed. If it was all made up do you really think so much would be put into helping people get off it.

      June 18, 2016 at 15:03 | Report abuse |
  4. Tony

    SWIM was wandering if some of u who have successfully kicked your opiate addiction and are 100% clean and sober now, could shed some light as to the exact details on the best way to ween yourself off of suboxone. He's wanting to do this in around a month or less if possible and he is currently taking about a 4th of an 8mg tablet a day. Im not looking for any1s take on If they like subs personally or quit in a diff. way (i.e. Cold turkey, methadone, vivitrol). Also any other over the counter medicine he can take to ease the acute withdrawal symptoms as I have heard things in the past about things like immodium and nyquil to help w bowel problems and sleep issues. I appreciate anyones information that could help SWIM in this matter

    February 28, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Lisa

    Too bad that the differing opinions bout whether addiction is a disease or not had to get personal. Actually there is inconclusive research which supports both views, and like many theories they are controversial. Whether you adhere to the disease model of addiction or the choice model, certainly there is nothing to be gained by bashing someone else's experience or insulting them.

    March 10, 2011 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      I agree. Anything is better than running around, putting GOD KNOWS WHAT in your body ! T.J. was one of the most SOLID men I've had the fortune of having in my life in 38 years, yet people WITH OUT ANY initials after there name seem to know it all !

      July 30, 2015 at 23:42 | Report abuse |

    How solid is this method? Really? I know the person in this video and sadly he is gone. Is this just another quick fix with no real long lasting affect.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jane Smith

      Vivitrol is not a quick fix. It isn't touted as being a miracle. It is part of a recovering addicts program. Vivitrol stops the craving and blocks opiates so the addict knows that using after getting the shot will not get them high. The addict must incorporate cognitive therapy and be committed to attending daily N.A. or A.A . meetings. The addict must make the choice to stop using. Drug/alcohol addiction is a disease that can be controlled with the proper follow-up care and support. Those who decide to use vivitrol as a part of their recovery treatment should realize that it increase the likelihood of an overdose if an addict makes the wrong choice and starts using heroin again. It's in the literature on vivitrol. I'm thankful it's now available to help addicts as part of their recovery program. God bless all who suffer from this disease. I pray you find peace and sobriety.

      September 27, 2013 at 18:25 | Report abuse |
  7. Brian

    Miss you sooooo much bro. ! Keep an eye on the other's there as I'm sure they are watchi9ng out for you ! Love ya', BRI

    August 31, 2012 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. R Johnson

    While the statistics of increased opioid addiction are alarming, there is help available for those who need it. A good treatment center individualizes it's care for each person, providing medication assisted treatments with psychological counseling, education and medical care.

    July 2, 2015 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Brian

    The time goes on, the pain doesent seem to get easier, but if anything, maybe the acceptance? I haven't watched the video in some time, yet it feels like we were in the Phantom yesterday ! Always, Love and miss you, Rosie !

    July 30, 2015 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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